Chances are, you love your smartphone.
No. I mean: You really love your smartphone.
MRI studies show that when we hold our smartphones, we almost feel as though they’re holding us back. Our brains produce a veritable love potion of chemicals – namely dopamine and oxytocin, the same chemicals released during cuddling. I guess that makes sense. Our smartphones, after all, make great partners. They keep us updated on the weather, the news, the stock market. They advise us where to go for dinner, how to get there, and (thanks to social media apps) whom we should invite – even if we end up ignoring that person the entire time by catching up on emails or playing Fortnite Mobile. Smartphones and other devices typically don’t argue with us, and – provided they’re well charged – they’re there for us when we need them.
Is it a surprise, then, that we’re sacrificing our personal relationships for our relationships with devices? And in doing so, we’re also sacrificing something else: our humanness. As technologies get smarter, we become more reliant, which can actually chip away at our own intelligence.
Take what happened on September 6, 2012:
A happy couple meandered through the scenic subarctic hinterlands of Alaska on their way to the Fairbanks International Airport. Although a human was at the wheel, the role of navigator belonged solely to Siri, the iPhone’s virtual assistant. This couple put all confidence in Siri’s ability. When ‘she’ instructed them to turn right, they turned right. When ‘she’ told them to turn left, they complied. They had so much faith in Siri, in fact, that when her instructions guided them through the airport’s motion-activated security gate and down a mile’s worth of flashing warning lights and a series of signs reading no cars allowed, they drove on, ultimately parking on the airport’s landing field. A737 careened dangerously close to them but luckily avoided what could quite possibly have been the worst t-boning in the history of man.
And this isn’t an isolated incident. Two weeks later, another motorist ended up on the same runway for the same reason. Dozens of other similar instances have been noted as well, including one that took place a half a world away when a group of travelers attempting to drive through Victoria, Australia capitulated to Siri’s demands and ended up stranded overnight, gasless and starving, in the middle of a state park.
But the ‘dumbest’ thing isn’t our blind faith in our smartphones’ abilities; it’s our complete devotion – or addiction – to them. Some studies show that, on average, people spend about 90 minutes a day on their devices. Maybe for some of you, that doesn’t seem so bad, but that ends up being approximately 23 days per year and about 1797 days per lifetime. That’s almost five years of one’s life where you’re most likely doing nothing substantive, and – let me remind you – you already spend about 26 years of your life sleeping. That’s over 30 years of your life devoted to unproductivity.
If you feel you’re starting to surrender your actual intelligence to the artificial kind, here are a few things you can do break your smart device reliance – or at least make it worth your while.
Read a book: In a recent blog post, I sang the praises of The First 15 program, which encourages participants to unplug for just 15 minutes a day to read a bona fide, complete-with-flippable-pages, three-dimensional book. Firms that have instituted this program have seen incredible returns in productivity, revenue and morale. When I gave the program a try, I became more focused, my memory improved, and I began communicating better.
Ditch the device: We’ve created self-imposed expectations on how quickly we’ll answer texts and emails, and as a society, we’ve developed a legitimate fear of missing out. But often, texts, emails, tweets, news and other attention-hogs can wait. Whether you’re at the office or at dinner with friends, leave your smartphone in the glovebox. You’ll connect more with your surroundings and the people in your life, and you’ll get so much more accomplished in the process.
Notifications off: Not ready to ditch the device? Even in small intervals? At the very least, turn off all your notifications. They’re just distractions. If you’re worried about emergency calls, most smartphones have an override option that kicks in when the same number calls you twice in a row.
Track your usage: Smartphone addiction has become such a problem, certain applications have incorporated tracking features that chart your usage (in most cases, over usage) infographically. If you’re not convinced you have a problem, be sure to capitalize on these features. You may be surprised just how often you check your Twitter account.
Use your smartphone to get smarter: Even if you’re not willing to put down your phone, you can at least find a better use of your time than posting pictures of your latest cappuccino to Instagram. Try learning a new language with Duolingo or start meditating daily with Headspace. You can even make the most of morning commutes by listening to informative podcasts like Radiolab, Stuff You Should Know, or the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants’ Beyond disruption series.
So if you’re spending all your time on your smartphone, consider some of the options above. Whether you try the ‘cold turkey’ approach or you merely repurpose your device’s power to power you up, don’t be a dummy. Consider making a substantive change. It’s the smart thing to do.